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Military dad returns for birthday surprise

Weston Wood, left, and his sister, Ansley, welcome their dad, Staff Sgt. Stephen Wood, back to the family. Wood had been deployed by the U.S. Air Force to South Korea for the past eight months, but returned be the surprise guest at Weston’s fifth birthday party Saturday. (Staff photo: Jim West)

Weston Wood, left, and his sister, Ansley, welcome their dad, Staff Sgt. Stephen Wood, back to the family. Wood had been deployed by the U.S. Air Force to South Korea for the past eight months, but returned be the surprise guest at Weston’s fifth birthday party Saturday. (Staff photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — It’s hard to beat a birthday party with a military theme, especially if you’re turning 5-years-old and your dad’s returning from Korea.

Staff Sgt. Stephen Wood, with the U.S. Air Force, had been deployed in South Korea and separated from his family, including his son, Weston; daughter, Ansley, 3, and wife, Blaire, for eight long months. Saturday, he was home for Weston’s party.

Since Weston is almost as crazy about all things military as he is about his dad, the family opted to spring an unexpected visit by a “man who knows your dad.”

“It was actually Weston’s idea,” said Beverly Pressley, Weston’s grandmother. “When I was asking him about themes for his party, he automatically said, ‘I want an Army man party.’ He doesn’t know the difference in Army and Air Force yet.”

Stephen Wood had been stationed at Warner Robins Air Force Base when he was deployed to South Korea. Now Blaire Wood, a registered nurse at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, has moved the family to her mother’s house in Leesburg.

“To have the family back together is just beyond excitement,” Blaire Wood said. “If it weren’t for my family around me, I’d feel like a single parent.”

According to the plan, family, friends and guests hung out at a small community building in the camping section of Chehaw Park. About 1 p.m., the mysterious “friend” in military garb drove up in a camouflage Humvee. Weston seemed a little nervous — maybe because the stranger wore a mask.

“I heard someone’s having an Army man birthday today,” the stranger said to Weston, who simply stared. “Are you five today? I heard that’s how old you have to be for the Army.”

Stephen Wood then offered Weston a chance to join the Army, but only if he could do three push ups. Wordlessly, Weston declined. The stranger didn’t push the issue, but knelt and presented a special coin that Weston’s dad had “sent” from Korea.

The gag had gone on long enough

“Do you know who I am?” asked Stephen Wood, who then unmasked.

Weston only grinned at first, but Ansley rushed and threw her arms around the airman.

“Daddy!” she exclaimed.

“I think he started to recognize me at the end,” Stephen Wood said later. “I was trying to disguise my voice, but then I just let it go.

“It was his birthday and he didn’t want to do the push ups, I don’t really blame him. I was starting to tear up just a little, too.”

The Wood family said they would spend the evening camping at Chehaw and on Oct. 20 leave for Orlando and some days of family fun. They have a month to spend some time together, then it’s back to Korea for Stephen, at least for three more months. After that the family, will be deployed to England for two full years.